Sustainable Gardening, Peat Moss Alternatives
Harvesting peatlands is damaging to the environment. Many gardeners are transitioning from the use of peat moss to more sustainable peat moss alternatives.
Peatlands are wetlands that can be found in nearly every country on earth and cover around three percent of the total land area. They contain deep accumulations of decomposed organic material, which eventually turns into peat. Peatlands are important carbon sinks as they are able to sequester 550 gigatonnes of carbon, more than any other vegetation type, including forests. Peatlands are also home to various species including rare birds, plants and insects.
Unfortunately, peatlands are at risk from human activity, as they are being converted for agriculture or development projects worldwide. Peat from peatlands is a very common ingredient in garden potting soils. One of the main benefits of peat moss is that it absorbs and retains water very well. It softens the soil structure and improves drainage for clay and heavy soils that get compacted easily. For sandy soil, peat moss helps retain moisture and nutrients for plant roots.
Because peat moss is considered a non-renewable resource, harvesting it is not sustainable. Many gardeners are looking for peat moss alternatives. In the UK, selling peat moss to gardeners will be banned as of 2024. Ministers will also give £50m (approximately $80 million Canadian dollars) to support the restoration of 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025.
As the awareness of the environmental impact of peat moss grows, more gardeners are looking for sustainable peat moss alternatives. Some of these alternatives include compost, coco coir, or pine bark.
Compost is made from decayed organic materials like rotted plants, leaves, vegetable scraps and animal manure. It has excellent water-holding capacities, is rich in microorganisms, and holds more nutrients than peat moss. Additionally, compost is relatively inexpensive and can be made at home.
Coco coir is the outer husk of the coconut, a by-product of the coconut processing industry. This material is much coarser and has larger spaces between its particles, so it has better aeration than peat moss. It also has good moisture retention, making it a good growing medium for houseplants. Similarly, mixing clay soil with coco coir before planting will create a much lighter texture, allowing roots to take hold and thrive. Adding coco coir to sandy soil will significantly improve the garden’s moisture retention. Coco coir is also being used in hydroponic growing systems to replace rock wool which is made from non-renewable basaltic rocks.
Pine bark is made from a pine tree’s shredded bark. It keeps the soil moist and moderates soil temperature. Pine bark reduces weeds by preventing seeds from sprouting. It also decomposes and adds humus to soil, giving it a loose and crumbly texture. If the pine bark is ground fine enough, it can replace peat moss.
As more gardeners continue to choose peat moss alternatives, harvesting peatlands will become a thing of the past. They will be restored and can continue their role in capturing carbon and providing a habitat to plant and animal species.